Dear Sandra, please tell us about your career, how did you combined your academic and industrial experience?
I am passionate about science and innovation and like to assist our customers by bringing their products to market more efficiently, more sustainably, with benefits based on science, and with a clear story enduring success.
I was born and brought up in Maastricht, a city founded by the Romans in the South of the Netherlands. I feel privileged to come from Maastricht because it is rich in history and of cultural importance. Due to Maastricht’s proximity to several other countries, it differs from the rest of the country and is often said to be the ‘most European’ place in the Netherlands. After spending my youth there, I moved to Amsterdam to study chemistry at the Free University and did my PhD at another university in Amsterdam. As a molecular biologist with expertise in yeast fermentation and DNA modification I obtained my PhD in Biomedicine. Amsterdam is well known for its beautiful canals, quirky architecture, and lively nightlife, but I actually liked living in Amsterdam the most because the people are open-minded and Amsterdam offers plenty of opportunities for students and young professionals to express and develop themselves. In Amsterdam I also met my partner, who studied Biology at the time, and in February 2023 we will be married for 25 years.
Although I started my career as a chemist, I gradually specialized in molecular biology, life science and nutrition. I was lucky to be appointed Assistant Professor so early in my career and soon after became associate professor in Rotterdam. In these two academic hospitals, I was working closely together with Prof Hans Büller, a famous pediatrician, and an intelligent biochemist, Dr Jan Dekker. Together we pioneered with a small team of scientists and doctors doing pediatric research in Amsterdam, and we built a complete and very successful Pediatrics laboratory in Rotterdam. This was an exciting time during which I learned a lot and gained a lot of knowledge in life science, especially gut and immune health, food and pharma. We collaborated with a lot of big pharmaceutical and food companies. These collaborations were very exciting and actually triggered me to switch to the food industry at a certain timepoint to be able to apply the knowledge I had gained over the years in academia.
First, I started working as Nutrition and Health Director at Lipid Nutrition which was at that time part of Loders Croklaan, based near Amsterdam. This was a B2B type of business developing lipid ingredients for the food and supplements markets mainly. With a small R&D team we worked on the development of several different lipid ingredients for health with omega-3 and beta-palmitate being the most famous and successful ones. However, also many other, innovative ingredients were developed and several patents filed. Thereafter, I was offered a very nice position in a brand new innovation center in France and started to work for Tate & Lyle ingredients as their Health and Nutrition Director. During this international phase of my career, I learned a lot about the diversity in people, their cultures and habits as Tate&Lyle is a big multinational with R&D centers across the world. I was responsible for the management of a team working on product development and nutrition and leading R&I programs to bring new food ingredients to the market with scientifically proven benefits yielding several patents. After a couple of years, an opportunity at Danone came along and I was appointed as their Scientific Program Director. This step really gave my career an extra boost as this is an extremely dynamic and successful B2C company with the development of health and nutrition products being at the core of their business.
Over the years, I have gained experience in (infant/medical/senior) nutrition, food science & technology, life sciences, health claim substantiation, GRAS and novel food applications. I led multidisciplinary teams focusing on innovative programs involving (pre)clinical research, product development, quality & safety of different foods and food/feed ingredients like prebiotics, lipids, plant-based ingredients among others. I have set-up up many international collaborations and has a large international network in industry and academia.
Tell us how you ended it up being recruited by Presans? What are your topics of interests?
I am active as Fellow of Presans, a Paris-based open innovation service provider. Together with Presans, I provide companies the world’s leading talents and experts on demand. Companies can tap into our comprehensive network of 6 million talents, scientists and technologists to tackle the most complex industrial challenges.
I became interested to work for Presans while I was still working for Danone. I already had in my mind to start my own consultancy when Darko Jesic, the current COO contacted me and told me about the capabilities of Presans. I immediately got excited and wanted to work for Presans as Fellow and Explorer. I saw this as a great opportunity to be able to work with many different multi-national food and pharma companies on big challenges in the research and innovation space. Being passionate about innovation, I am always eager to find experts on the topic that can help our clients on their needs. With my broad background and experience in academia and industry, I can help a wide range of clients on their needs in the areas of food, pharma, biotechnology, life science and nowadays also on sustainability.
Over the years, I worked on many different projects and one of the last ones was focusing on the Future of Food. Nowadays, projects are more and more focusing on sustainability matters and finding alternatives for the traditional meat and dairy. This is an exciting area I am currently working on. For more detailed biography, please have a look at my linked-in or research gate site.